Published on April 10th, 2014 | by Mark
Review: Nintendo Land
Summary: Lots of fun but lacking some key aspects that could have made it great
Sometimes a game is held back not by what it does, but what it doesn’t do. Nintendo Land is a perfect example of this. The game itself is fine and pointing out faults with everything it does and sets out to do is hard – but the experience leaves you with the lingering feeling it could have been so much more.
Nintendo clearly envisaged the game as not only a system seller but also as showcase for the Wii U. It was meant to be the Wii Sports of this generation, a game that captured the imagination of the public whilst effortlessly and perfectly explaining the Gamepad and its benefits. But unlike the huge success that was Wii Sports, Nintendo Land stumbles and misses the mark.
The first thing that comes apparent from Nintendo Land is that the game is a mini-game compilation. The words ‘mini-game compilation’ are ones that will immediately put off some gamers – but to describe some of these games as merely ‘mini-games’ shows them a huge disservice. In fact some of these games could have been stand-alone eShop releases at a budget price and would have been well worth a purchase. However some of the ‘mini-games’ are, to put it politely, less than the quality you would expect.
The mini-games are split into three categories: Team attractions which are for one to five players, competitive attractions which are for two to five players and solo attractions which are for the single player, however even in the solo attractions a second player can assist in one way or another. There are three team attractions, three competitive attractions and six single player attractions giving a healthy total of twelve games.
Straight away you will notice the disparity between them. The Zelda, Pikmin and Metroid team attractions feel like fleshed out and engaging experiences, each one having multiple levels, achievements and boss battles which require a reasonable level of skill. However a couple of the single player attractions – Octopus Dance and Yoshi’s Fruit Cart feel like they are simply there as filler.
The big deal with all the games is that they are there to showcase how the Wii U works and thus the focus is on multiplayer that shows off the Gamepad and how it can bring about new experiences. Instantly however you will notice it is hardly intuitive. Whereas anyone could dive right into Wii Sports and know what to do, not so with Nintendo Land – and it is all too aware of this, screen prompts are everywhere – ‘Look at the Gamepad’, ‘Look at the TV’, Hold the Gamepad Horizontally’, ‘Lift the Gamepad in this direction’ etc. These prompts simply demonstrate how the Gamepad isn’t something that either gamers or non-gamers will pick up and feel at home with. The fact everything has to be explained in such a way instils little confidence in the system and leads to a stop-start experience.
The supposed ‘big draw’ of Nintendo Land is the ‘asymmetric’ multiplayer, allowing gamers to have a different experience depending on whether they are using the Gamepad or the Wii Remote and the TV. This is showcased best during the competitive attractions, a perfect example being Luigi’s Ghost Mansion. In this attraction one person plays as the ghost using the Gamepad whilst the other players hunt the ghost on the TV. The ghost can see everything on the Gamepad but the hunters on the TV can’t see the ghost. The idea is for the hunters to work together to take down the ghost before he can sneak up on them and ambush them; it’s actually really fun and a pretty tense experience at times. The experience of being the ghost or the hunter is vastly different, The ghost must try and split up the group and take them out one at a time using stealth and cunning. There are another two competitive attractions – Mario Chase which sees you playing hide and seek in the Mushroom Kingdom and Animal Crossing: Sweet Day which sees guards trying to stop animals collecting candy. All of these games work really well and can be a lot of fun – when you manage to get four or five people around the TV at the same time.
The team attractions are similar and offer the most fleshed out experiences. In Zelda one player uses the Gamepad and provides cover firing a bow, up to three other players work through the level on foot despatching enemies using swords over multiple levels all taken from the Zelda series. In Metroid Blast one player takes control over Samus’s gunship using the Gamepad with a dual analog set up, whilst the other players suit up in power armour using the Wii Remote and nunchuk for precision pointer controls. Again there are multiple levels and bosses from the series. Finally there’s Pikmin Adventure where one player controls Olimar using the Gamepad and the other players control oversized Pikmin as you work as a team navigating the levels, controlling smaller Pikmin and deafeating bosses and enemies.
But here’s the rub, playing them as a team as they were intended is a difficult thing. You need four or five players all sat round the same TV, you need multiple Wii Remotes, nunchucks and everyone needs to know what they are doing. This isn’t Wii Sports and non-gamers won’t simply slot in and be able to swing a Wii Remote as if it was a tennis racket. So sadly most gamers will rarely ever see Nintendo Land at its best and when they do, it will only be for an afternoon or an evening worth of fun.
Because here is the greatest omission – there’s no online multiplayer. You can’t hop online and play this with your friends or even a group of random players. I would love to go online with people I know, chatting as we work our way around Hyrule fighting through Gannon’s hordes as we take in the charming patch work quilt world that Nintendo have forged. But I can’t, so a huge part of the game – a part that is so integral to the game – is off limits to most players, only to be discovered on the rare occasion that you have a full house of willing and knowledgeable gamers.
This of course completely hobbles the competitive attractions which are multiplayer only. In fact I’ve barely played them. When I have, I can say I have really enjoyed them, they feel fresh, unique and an amazing amount of fun. But Nintendo want you to have that fun in a certain way – and that way doesn’t include single gamers who don’t have access to a regular pool of players who can come over and sit in their living rooms.
The bizarre omission of online features also carries over into the solo attractions. All of the solo attractions are games that see you chasing high scores, these games can be pretty unforgiving at times and require a good amount of skills to reach their respective ends, what’s more there are no continues. It’s a very old school approach and the real buzz of playing is beating your previous best.
There are six of these games: Takamaru’s Ninja Castle, a shooting gallery where you flick ninja stars off the Gamepad at waves of cardboard ninjas, imagine a light gun game with ninja stars. Donkey Kong’s Crash Course, a game where you guide a small trolley around through a platform based obstacle course, but the play off comes between going as fast as you can without crashing. Captain Falcon’s Twister Race sees you taking control of the Blue Falcon as you race through 12 areas of increasing difficulty meeting strict time limits and without destroying your craft. Balloon Trip Breeze is a side scrolling version of the classic Balloon Fight; you have to navigate your Mii through a mine field of obstacles whilst generating enough wind to keep you afloat by swiping the Gamepad. Yoshi’s Fruit Cart sees you collecting fruit by drawing a path for Yoshi on the Gamepad. Finally Octopus Dance sees you taking part in a rhythm based game where you replicate on the Gamepad what you see on the screen. But as all of the games are built around beating your previous high score it is completely absurd that Nintendo felt it was necessary to omit online leader boards. Yes, you read that correctly, they are a series of score attack games which don’t have any form of online leader boards. In this day and age it is not only a baffling decision but also an unforgivable one.
What makes all this even worse is that Nintendo have severely limited a game that has so much potential. The game is so polished and full of charm in other areas it has the potential to be a triple A title. The graphics are beautiful and the art style is so unique and charming that playing through the levels is a joy. Whether it is the patch work quilt of Zelda’s sown together world or Donkey Kong’s Crash Course that is built on a school black board, there is so much diversity and life in this collection of games you can’t help but be drawn to play it.
With it being a Nintendo game there is also the unbelievable level of polish, it runs smoothly and the attention to detail will have every Nintendo fan noticing little touches that bring back memories of the classic series on which these mini games are based. Whether it is fighting a giant mechanical Kraid in Metroid Blast or making a stomach churning jump at top speed in the Blue Flacon one thing is clear – Nintendo can make an eye watering HD game that looks as stunning as it does unique. The music is just as good too, classic Nintendo themes and sound bites fill this game reminding you of the amazing series these games are based on.
All of this leads to the final disappointment though – the central hub in which the game is based. The idea of a Nintendo theme park is tantalising to say the least. When you first start the game the central hub is empty and as you progress and earn coins you can unlock trophies which fill your park by playing a Pachinko mini game. As your park slowly fills with collectibles (which are all animated and you can bring to life by interacting with them) it comes to life. But sadly it’s just a large circular hub, it isn’t a theme park, there aren’t different zones or areas like you would find at a theme park. There isn’t a Zebes Area that hosts Metroid Blast, or Pikmin planet where Olimar had his adventures – it is just a circular and lifeless hub.
Curiously you will find over time your hub does fill with other player’s Miis which shows there is at least some sort of online connectivity, which actually makes it even more confusing as to why Nintendo didn’t put in any other form of online features.
Ultimately Nintendo Land doesn’t solely disappoint, in fact at time it thrills and astounds with its bold mix of new ideas and beautiful presentation. However the whole experience is held back not by what is in the game, but by what is not in the game. We no longer live in a world where online connectivity is limited by a 56k modem. We no longer have to crowd around a TV split four ways once every month to get our multiplayer fix. We live in a connected world where we could have enjoyed these gems every day with friends and random strangers from around the world.
It isn’t what Nintendo have done that harms Nintendo Land, but strangely it is what Nintendo haven’t done that hurts the game. Sadly Nintendo’s refusal to accept that times have changed will mean that many people simply won’t ever see the full potential of Nintendo Land. Nintendo have created something that could have become a sensation, but due to their decision to lock out online play they have ensured it never will be, instead relegating Nintendo Land to being a curiosity that will only ever be enjoyed at its best in